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20 June 2014


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I should say something about the origins of Shiism. As a non-Muslim I have no axe to grind between the Shia and the Sunni. From my point of view they are all in error and are suitable subjects for objective study. The "emic" story on how Shiism began holds that the formerly Zoroastrian Persian speaking population of southern Iraq spontaneously rose up under Muslim Arab (Sunni) occupation to embrace the succession rights of the family of the Prophet to be the head of the Umma. Most non-Muslim scholarship considers this to be a fable useful to the world view of the Shia but essentially unrepresentative of what really happened. The "etic" view is that the Arab occupiers treated Mesopotamia and its inhabitants as booty to be distributed among the conquering Arabs. The Arabs drew up a list (diwan) apportioning income from the conquered lands among themselves in shares proportionate to the date of their adherence to Islam. The locals were excluded from this list even if they converted to Islam (mawali). Over several decades resentment over this grew steadily among the converts until it expressed itself in a rejection of the religio/political authority of the Ummayad Caliph in Damascus and adherence to the rights of the prophet's family. The diwan was rejected along with the authority of Mu'awiya the Ummayad caliph. pl

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